By Mark Juergensmeyer, 7/27/11 12:20 PM ET
Many Christians cringe when Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik is described as a “Christian terrorist.” But that is what he is.
It is true that Breivik was much more concerned about politics and history than about scripture and religious belief. But much the same can be said about Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other Muslim terrorists. Bin Laden was a businessman and engineer, and Zawahiri was a medical doctor; neither were theologians or clergy. Their writings show that they were much more interested in Islamic history than theology or scripture, and imagined themselves as recreating glorious moments in the Muslim past in their own imagined wars.
Breivik, in his manifesto, writes of al Qaeda with admiration, as if he would love to create a Christian version of their religious cadre. Though he only occasionally quotes scripture, and admires the church in Norway largely as a cultural center for Christendom, he is captivated by Christian history. Breivik is fascinated with the Crusades and imagines himself to be a member of the Knights Templar, the crusader army of a thousand years ago. He would like to have a Christian army comparable to al Qaeda’s Muslim militia.
So if bin Laden was a Muslim terrorist, Breivik is a Christian terrorist. The symbol that Breivik designed for his movement, and that was made into a medallion in India, portrays a cross penetrating a skull on which are scrawled the crescent symbol of Islam, the Marxist hammer and sickle, and the Nazi swastika. How much more Christian can you get?
Still, no one wants to think of their own religion as capable of horrible acts of violence, which is why most Muslims around the world still question whether a Muslim could possibly have perpetrated 9/11. Conspiracy theories in the Muslim world blame the CIA or the Israeli secret police.
While Muslims shirk at the implication that their religion of peace is identified with terrorism, Christians blame Islam for any terrorist act committed in its name. Why not admit that Christianity is also, alas, at times linked with terrorism?
This question arose after Christian terrorist Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. At that time and since, many Christians have refused to think of him in Christian terms. The similarities between Breivik and McVeigh are striking.
Both were good-looking young Caucasians, who imagined themselves soldiers in a cosmic war to save Christendom. Both thought their acts of mass destruction would trigger a great battle to rescue society from liberal forces of multiculturalism that allowed non-Christians and non-whites positions of acceptability. Both regretted the loss of life but thought their actions were “necessary.” For that, they were staunchly unapologetic.
Their similarities even extend to the kind of explosive used in their actions. Both used a mixture of fuel oil and ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which Breivik said he needed for his farm operations. The farm, it turned out, was rented largely because it was a convenient place to test his car bombs.
And then there is the matter of dates. McVeigh was fixed on the day of April 19, the anniversary of the Waco siege. Breivik chose July 22, which was the day in 1099 that the Kingdom of Jerusalem was established during the First Crusades. The date, 2083, that is the title of his manifesto, is the date of the Battle of Vienna in which the armies of the Ottoman Empire were defeated and Europe was prevented from becoming a Muslim territory.
The threat of Islam is a dominant motif of Breivik’s 1500-page manifesto, “2083: A European Declaration of Independence.” The writing of a manifesto is a major difference between Breivik and McVeigh, who was not a writer. Instead, McVeigh copied and quoted from his favorite book, the novel “The Turner Diaries,” written by neo-Nazi William Pierce and the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald.
But the novel McVeigh loved explains his motives in a matter eerily similar to the writings of Breivik: He thought that liberal politicians had given in to the forces of globalization and multiculturalism, and that the “mudpeople” — non-White non-Christian non-heterosexual non-patriarchal males — were trying to take over the country. Sympathetic Whites had to be shocked into reality by the force of an explosion signaled to them that the war had begun. These were McVeigh’s ideas from “The Turner Diaries,” but they were also Breivik’s.
Like the Oklahoma City bombing by America’s Christian terrorist, the horrible events of July 22 by Norway’s Christian terrorist Anders Breivik were symbolic attempts at empowerment, aimed at showing the world that the imagined war to save Christendom had begun. It is a tragic fantasy — that Christianity is under siege and needs to be saved — but one that echoes throughout the world of the Christian right, and sadly erupts, at times, in terrorism.